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The Write Question is a weekly video podcast about writing that I started in 2017 and that ran, more or less weekly, until April 2022. This is a republication of issue #16, addressing the best publishing option. The post first ran on May 12/17.
Welcome to The Write Question, the video-podcast designed to answer your questions about writing. I’m Daphne Gray-Grant.
Today I have a question from Phillip Djwa, an Internet marketing specialist from Vancouver.
It’s Phillip Djwa and I’m calling with a question about deciding whether to use a publisher or to self-publish or to use a hybrid publisher — which is sort of the best combination of self- and traditional publishing. A lot of the work I do is in marketing and I feel pretty competent in doing most of the marketing work that it seems like I have to do anyway if I used a traditional publisher. I also wonder about the difficulty in finding a publisher who would be appropriate for the material I’m doing.
Thank-you Phillip. You’ve asked some really valuable questions here. Many people aren’t even aware of the new hybrid publishers, so let me talk separately about each of the three publishing options you’ve mentioned.
#1: Traditional publishing: This is where a publisher — like Penguin or HarperCollins — agrees to publish your book. That sounds like a good deal but for every pro, there are cons.
The good news about traditional publishing is that it won’t cost you much money upfront. But here are the downsides:
- You will need to find an agent to get you such a deal and that can be difficult and time consuming.
- Getting an agent might take a couple of years — and then it will take them perhaps another year or more to sell your book. Going the traditional route is never fast.
- The publisher will be entitled to make decisions that you might rather make yourself. For example, they’ll get to choose the title and the cover design.
- Most publishers do not provide a big marketing budget and, if they do, it’s reserved for big-name authors like Stephen King.
- Be aware that you’ll have to cover the cost for any artwork or photos inside the book and, if you’re a non-fiction writer, you’ll also be responsible for creating your own index.
- Unless you’re Stephen King, you’ll make very little money with traditional publishing. The most you can get is about 7% of the cover price. So, if your book sells for $19.95 you earn only $1.40 per book. Let’s optimistically think you manage to sell at least 3,000 copies — which is a bit of a stretch for a first-time author. But if you achieve that you’ll make only $4,200 on your book. There’s a good reason why publishing is often called a non-profit industry.
Option #2: Traditional self-publishing: This is where you take on yourself all the tasks a publisher would have done. A smaller number of people opt for self-publishing but here’s why I like this option the best:
- You remain in control the whole time. It’s your title, your cover, your timeline. You don’t have to negotiate with anyone. You retain total control of your book.
- You can contract out the work you aren’t able or don’t know how to do. Hire someone to design your cover. Hire a printer. Hire a copy editor.
- You do have to spend some money upfront — that’s a downside — but you have the ability to earn a whole bunch more later. Once your hard costs are covered, you will keep every penny you earn. If you can keep your hard costs down to 50% of the cover price — which should be doable — you’ll then be making $9.97 for each copy of that $19.95 book that you sell.
- The biggest downside of self-publishing used to be that it was really hard to get into bookstores. Now, most people buy their books online and it’s easy to get into Amazon. I’ve included a link below.
There is one downside of self-publishing. And that is you need ways of reaching your potential readers. I do this by blogging five days a week, which takes a fair bit of time and energy, and other authors reach their audience in a number of ways. Be aware this is part of the deal of self-publishing.
#3: Hybrid publishing: For those of you who haven’t heard of this option, companies have sprung up that will help guide you through the self-publishing process. They’ll help you find copy editors, cover designers and printers. But — and this is a big but — they will charge you handsomely for this service. Most of the hybrid publishers I know charge well in excess of $5,000 for this service — and that’s on top of the other fees such as printing or copy editing.
Common sense should tell you that whenever you hire a “middle-man” you are going to be paying at least a couple of percentage points for that.
Besides, self-publishing is not that complicated! I’ve linked below to another video I’ve done on the topic. And if you don’t want to play the lottery game of finding a traditional publisher, I encourage you to look at self-publishing.
Finally, let me wrap up with a sobering quote from English writer Charles Caleb Colton: “To write what is worth publishing, to find honest people to publish it, and get sensible people to read it, are the three great difficulties in being an author.
Thanks so much for watching. And please don’t forget to like and subscribe to the video.
Amazon’s self-publishing arm: Create Space
My earlier video on self-publishing